Space

Calling Bill Haley and the Comets, because PSR J0738-4042, which lies 37,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Puppis, is being rocked around the clock.

As in being constantly hit by asteroids.

It's not a great place. The environment around this star is especially harsh, full of radiation and violent winds of particles, say the researchers who used telescopes in South Africa and Australia to find the assaults.

"One of these rocks seems to have had a mass of about a billion tonnes," saidAustralian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO)  astronomer and member of the research team Dr. Ryan Shannon. "If a large rocky object can form here, planets could form around any star. That's exciting."


How smart do you have to be to convince Albert Einstein to change his mind?

Pretty smart. He never invoked 'the science is settled' or ridiculed the political party of physicists who insisted the universe was expanding. It was static until someone proved otherwise.

Eventually they did, but it was not the urban legend that claimed in 1931 American astronomer Edwin Hubble showed Einstein his observations of redshift in the light emitted by far away nebulae - what we call galaxies now. The tipping point was instead a tortuous thought process following many encounters with some of the most influential astrophysicists of his generation.


The origin of life remains a great mystery in biology. Continental drift has erased most of the record, until all that's left of the first half billion years of evolution are some millimeter sized zircons embedded in later rocks. These can tell us the composition of the early Earth's atmosphere (through pockets of air trapped in the crystals) but not much else. And there is much to discover. The most primitive microbes we know are far too large to be the first living cells, and modern DNA based life is far too complex.

Large stars go supernova but smaller stars sometimes end up as planetary nebulae – colorful, glowing clouds of dust and gas.

These nebulae have been observed to often emit powerful, bipolar jets of gas and dust. But how do spherical stars evolve to produce highly aspherical planetary nebulae?

A hypothesis published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society by a University of Rochester undergraduate student and a professor states that only "strongly interacting" binary stars – or a star and a massive planet – can feasibly give rise to these powerful jets.


Though the evidence shows that people are not really different during a full moon, like homeopathy or organic food benefits happen just often enough that people are convinced by the placebo/nocebo effect to believe there must be something to it.

And science has its moon quirks too. Why, for example, would signals bouncing off the moon be so faint on full moon evenings?

The answer is in an eclipse, which has had its own share of superstitious attributions.

Researchers have aimed laser beams at suitcase-sized reflectors placed on the moon by Apollo astronauts and unmanned Soviet rovers. By precisely timing the light's return to Earth, they can measure the distance from here to the moon with millimeter precision.


You've probably seen movies of orbital space habs spinning for artificial gravity. But did you know, that nobody has ever tested this to see how it works out in practise? We know that weightlessnes is bad for health, especially long term, with many potentially serious medical issues. But do we need full g, or Mars g, or lunar g to stay healthy? Nobody knows. Can we cope with a spinning hab a few meters across or do we need to think about a huge hab or tether system a couple of hundred meters across or larger? Again nobody knows. 

Stars like Sol are relatively easy to understand, because they are numerous, and live for billions of years, but high mass stars are rare and live for only a few million years. As a result, understanding their early evolution has been a challenge.  

Simple models suggested that when high mass stars become hot enough to ionize the gas around them, heating it to thousands of degrees, the gas will quickly expand. But decades ago, astronomers found that regions of ionized gas around young high mass stars remain small (under a third of a light-year) for ten times longer than they should if they were to expand as predicted. 

In 2005,the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa  revealed that the near-Earth asteroid (25143) Itokawa  has a strange peanut shape, leading to questions about why. Now, using ground-based observations, a group has measured the speed at which Itokawa spins and how that spin rate is changing over time and combined these observations with theoretical work on how asteroids radiate heat.


Kepler-413b is located 2,300 light-years (about 700 parsecs) away in the constellation Cygnus. It circles a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars every 66 days but what really makes Kepler-413b unusual is that it precesses wildly on its spin axis - The tilt of the spin axis of the planet can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years with respect to the plane of the binary star's orbit.

Compare that to the Earth's rotational precession, which is a far more modest 23.5 degrees over 26,000 years. This far-off planet is far-out and all of this complex movement leads to rapid and erratic changes in seasons.  That it is precessing on a human timescale is simply amazing. 

The linchpin location of the "Star Wars" franchise was the planet Tatooine, home to both Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It, along with its twin suns, appeared in every movie of the franchise except "The Empire Strikes Back".

How would such a planet, orbiting two stars, form? There are few environments more extreme than a binary star system, if you are forming a planet. 

Kepler-34(AB)b has some answers, according to a new study. Like Tatooine, Kepler-34(AB)b is a circumbinary planet, its orbit encompasses two stars. Since powerful gravitational perturbations from two stars lead to destructive collisions that grind down planetary material, the existence of such planets can be difficult to explain.